'Veronica Mars' Movie's Kickstarter Success Could Change Everything
by Ben Pearson
March 14, 2013
Early on Wednesday morning, "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas realized that when he started a Kickstarter campaign for a movie version of his cult TV hit that he may have just transformed the definition of what is possible in the entertainment landscape. Thomas asked fans to donate a staggering $2 million dollars - the highest movie total ever set on the platform - so he could shoot a Veronica Mars movie this summer, set to be released in early 2014. In less than five hours it hurdled the $1 million mark, and was completely funded about ten hours after the campaign began. So what could this mean for the film industry?
"Veronica Mars" was a small scale, cleverly-written and extremely well-acted detective noir television show that ran for three years on The WB (and subsequently The CW) before it was cancelled, and Thomas and his star Kristen Bell have been attempting to get a feature film version made every since it went off the air in 2007. Warner Bros., the studio that owns the rights to the series, has been reluctant to take the plunge because the studio wasn't sure the fan base was large enough to make it worth their effort. Thomas and Bell secured the studio's permission (a key factor in this conversation) to launch this campaign, and the rest happened faster than anyone could have predicted.
Naturally, the next question is, "which of my other favorite shows could have movies or extra seasons funded?" People like Shawn Ryan, of creator "The Shield", "The Chicago Code" and showrunner of the much-loved but cancelled-too-soon private eye series "Terriers," as well as Zachary Levi, star of the NBC series "Chuck," have been keeping an eye on this to possibly use as a model to continue those respective stories. The important thing moving forward is that the talent who would like to resurrect dead projects need to get permission from the studios that actually own these properties before they can get a greenlight.
All eyes in the entertainment industry will now shift to how well the "Veronica Mars" movie performs, and you can bet that studio execs will be watching closer than anyone else. WB has already received a ton of free publicity for this project, and they haven't spent a dime. Depending on the size their fanbases moving forward, future projects could get even more media attention. (Remember, "Veronica Mars" was never a huge show. Imagine what Whedon or Abrams could do with Kickstarter.) The current situation is interesting because it essentially seems like a win-win scenario for the studio. Warner Bros. can give full autonomy to Thomas and his team, sit back and let the fans fund the movie, and then rake in whatever profits they earn from distributing it. This is where a lot of people raise concerns over a Kickstarter-funded version of a movie that's still within the studio system: most Kickstarter and IndieGoGo projects are made to avoid run-ins with the kind of bureaucracy that comes with studio interference. But might this be a "best of both worlds" case? Could WB just have been using this campaign as a test to measure fan support, and might they throw in some cash later in the process? As the film makes its way toward release, we'll hopefully find out.
As of now, Warner Bros. will reportedly help out with distribution, marketing, publicity, and legal, and their digital distribution arm will aid in a limited theatrical release and a VOD release after that. $2 million is a record-setting number in Kickstarter history, but in the grand scheme of a feature film, it's actually not that much money - especially considering that Kickstarter/Amazon will take a hefty percentage off the top of that donation total. It'll be fine for a small passion project like this one (and Thomas says the more they raise, the higher the stakes will be in the final film), and I'm sure Kristen Bell and the rest of the cast are willing to work for next to nothing in order to make this happen. Launching campaigns like this won't become the norm overnight, but what happens when a bigger name launches a bigger campaign to get a film funded? I'm not sure everyone will be willing to work for next to nothing in the future, especially if the studios get more and more involved in the process.
Many are seeing the Veronica Mars movie campaign's success as a bad sign, suggesting all film studios could use this campaign's success as proof that they don't actually need to finance projects anymore. Personally, I think it's kind of crazy to be jumping to those conclusions so early in this process. Kickstarter itself is still relatively new, and as this record-breaking success indicates, it's still evolving. We're not sure where events like this could lead us quite yet, but I think it's safe to say that we should all take a breath, calm down, and watch and see how this situation plays out. This could change everything, or it might only be used for tiny resurrection projects like this. I can see a "Party Down" movie being made, possibly another Serenity movie (years and years from now), and maybe even something like "Deadwood" brought back for some closure, but I think a huge part of why fans are giving to this project is because it wasn't going to happen any other way. Will people pay to support new or "regular" projects in the same way? Doubtful.
Keep in mind also that bigger names than Thomas have taken to Kickstarter to launch projects before, but nothing has seen the insane success rate that this project has so far. David Fincher, Charlie Kaufman and Dan Harmon, and Paul Schrader have turned to the crowd-funding platform to find support for projects that studios wouldn't finance. This has started a huge debate about whether "famous" people should be allowed to use the service, or whether it should go to more truly independent users working on smaller projects.
There's certainly a level of greed that can be seen in WB letting the fans fund a movie that they will turn around and profit from, but look at it this way: for fans of "Veronica Mars" (and potentially a lot of other series, too), the alternative is not seeing how these stories continue. If the studios won't make these projects, no big deal. But if fans can chip in a few bucks to support some of their favorite creators and see some of their favorite characters again, why should people be up in arms about it? Yes, this could be seen technically as "asking you to pay for it twice," but if some are willing to do that, so what? It all goes back to this basic rule: if you don't like it, no one is forcing you to watch it (or donate to it, in this case). Fans have and always will vote with their wallets, and I don't see anything wrong with supporting a project that you feel strongly about, regardless of whether or not a conglomeration will profit from it. At least fans will finally have what they've been wanting for years, and it will be their money that made that possible.
So what's next? Dr. Horrible 2? Guillermo del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness? A Dark Tower trilogy? Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote movie, as suggested recently? Rob Thomas has certainly opened the floodgates, and as long as the studios are willing to sign on the dotted line, we could be in store for a massive wave of resurrected projects hitting crowdsourcing platforms in the near future. We'll still be featuring projects in our weekly Kickstart This column because we always want to support filmmakers, but let's throw the conversation to you guys. What do you think about the idea of a crowdsourced "Veronica Mars" movie? Will you pay to see it? Should Thomas & Bell have used Kickstarter to get this movie made? Sound off below!